Research casts doubt on Bach's claim to Cello Suites 


New evidence from a six-year study of various Johann Sebastian Bach manuscripts suggests that Bach did not compose the highly acclaimed Six Cello Suites.

Associate Professor Martin Jarvis, artistic director and conductor of the Darwin symphony Orchestra, has just concluded one of the most comprehensive studies of the acclaimed composition.

The findings, contained in his recently completed PhD which was awarded by Charles Darwin University, call into question some of the more entrenched scholarly positions with regards Johann Sebastian Bach’s career, and the authorship of the Cello Suites and other works which have long been ascribed to him.

“The documentation of Johann Sebastian’s life, particularly in his early years, is sparse at best,” he said.

“Consequently, his private life is shrouded in a kind of mystery, and the fact is that much of what has been written about Johann Sebastian’s domestic situation is also at best, highly educated conjecture.”

Dr Jarvis’ thesis uses, for the first time, the principles and techniques of the science of forensic document examination.

“The fact that some of Bach's most significant works do not exist in his handwriting but in the handwriting of, for example in the case of the Cello Suites, Anna Magdalena his second wife, we are left with a mystery and a question: why is this so?

“My research shows that the traditional view that Anna Magdalena was simply a copyist of her husband’s music is not likely to be the case, and that it is more likely that she was much more, that is a composer herself and probably the composer of the Cello Suites and other works attributed to her husband.

“If this really is the case, and I am certain that it is, we will need to re-write the history of music, which is why there is so much resistance to my work,” he said.

There can be little doubt that the matter of the interpretation of the Cello Suites as a result of the many editions of the composition, has caused and continues to cause much debate among cellists.

If the music was really written by Johann Sebastian Bach, why should there be the need for so many different versions of the Six Cello Suites? Dr Jarvis said.

“What is it about the Bach Cello Suites that causes them to be ‘…considered by many to be the most challenging of the solo repertoire’, as the great contemporary cellist Yo-Yo Ma commented?

“It is more than feasible that this is because they weren’t actually composed by Johann Sebastian Bach,” Dr Jarvis said.